You know how sometimes, you just get a good feeling about something? That was the case with the Potomac Nationals on this trip. For some unknown reason, I was really looking forward to taking in a Nats game at G. Richard Pfitzner Stadium on July 1.
I wish I could say the Nationals game lived up to my hopes, but I honestly have to report it fell short. Now, I don’t think I had unrealistic expectations, but I didn’t see a lot here that would excite people visiting on a baseball road trip.
When I arrived at the facility in Woodbridge, VA, I paid $5 for parking. Paying for parking is one thing, but paying more for parking at an A-class game than at a AAA game seems a little ridiculous. (And I think I paid $8 to park a block from Progressive Field in Cleveland last summer.) To make matters worse, the entire complex is enormous, so you’re not parked remotely near the ballpark. That said, Pfitzner Stadium (as it’s most commonly known) is smack dab in the middle of a really cool baseball site. It’s not as neat as the Ripken facility in Aberdeen, MD, but it’s similar in many ways. There are three other ball diamonds around the MiLB one, so it’s fun to watch other teams in action while waiting for the gates to open.
Here’s the front of the ballpark:
I bought my ticket …
… and started to walk down the first base line. One really cool feature here is how Potomac’s batting cage is just a few yards inside a chain-link fence. I watched one of the Nationals take some pre-game cuts:
When I got to the area beyond the outfield fence, an un-fan-friendly sign greeted me:
This is the first time I’ve ever seen such a fence at a Minor League facility. Some areas behind fences are fenced off, but I’ve never seen a sign telling fans not to walk through the area. There’s nothing much back there except for a path …
… so I assume the team just doesn’t want fans picking up balls. (A few innings into the game, a player popped a foul over the fence behind the third base bleachers, and team staff bolted out the gate to grab the ball before any fans could. Lame.)
That said, I did manage to find a ball just beyond the picnic area in right field (not in the verboten zone, thank you), and it had gone three rounds with a lawnmower and lost:
Still, it was a ball, and was the first “practice ball” I’ve added to my collection. I’ve only seen one of these in the past, though I imagine lots of teams use them.
When the gates opened, I went into the ballpark and found a small common area. There are several picnic tables to grab a snack before the game. I suppose the downside to this area is you can’t see the field:
I browsed through Potomac’s wall of fame area, and was amazed at the impressive list of alumni. Now, the Potomac Nationals have only been around since 2005, but several teams have called the area home dating back to 1978. A few of the guys to come through here include Albert Pujols, Barry Bonds, Andy Pettitte, Bobby Bonilla, Jorge Posada, Magglio Ordonez and Joey Votto. Not bad, right?
A quick look at the concession stand’s menu wasn’t too inspiring. Most ballparks have some sort of food item that sets them apart, but that’s not the case here. Though, this might be the first time I’ve seen Red Bull on a ballpark menu. For $6, no less. Pardon?
The ballpark’s souvenir store is small, but has great prices. In fact, the deals were as good as I’ve seen anywhere. The team’s New Era, on-field caps are just $20, for instance. And shirts and so on don’t require you to sign over your firstborn. Here’s the outside of the store …
… and here’s the inside:
A super neat feature behind the first base line is the team’s booster club. During my visit (and likely all the time), the club was selling game-used, cracked, autographed bats for $15. Like the team store, this is the best price I’ve ever seen. There was a giant selection …
… but when I went to buy one in the second inning, the kiosk was gone. So, if you’re interested in something from the booster club, do it early, I guess.
I then walked down the third base line and watched the Winston-Salem Dash stretch …
… and warm up. Here’s starting pitcher Joseph Serafin throwing:
For a small park, Pfitzner Stadium has a decent scoreboard:
Here’s a look at the whole facility from the third base line bleachers:
Take a look at the home dugout. I think it’s the smallest I’ve ever seen; check how there are two rows of benches:
When the game began, I took a spot in the bleachers down the first base line and had the whole section to myself:
Between innings, I climbed up to the top of the section and something white caught my eye:
Yep, a batting practice ball stuck in the bleachers. Typically, you’d think balls hit here would fall through, but this one didn’t. And except for a few flakes of dirt, it was in perfect condition:
One of the best things about small parks is how close you can get to the players. Here, the bullpens are down the lines, and Potomac’s relievers were as fan friendly as I’ve seen. There seemed to be a great rapport between fans and players, which was neat to see. I watched part of an inning from here …
… then took another walk through the ballpark. I noticed a board tracking the progress of former Potomac players:
Another neat feature about Pfitzner Stadium is the standing room gate right beside the home dugout. If you can get a spot here, you’re extremely close to the field and have a perfect view:
Here’s a panorama of the field from behind home plate …
… in front of a modest pressbox area:
Don’t get me wrong, this ballpark isn’t horrible. It’s just not that exciting. The design is uninspiring, the atmosphere the night I visited was non existent (though I realize that can change from game to game) and the expensive parking, inability to go behind the fence and bland menu just left me with a “blah” feeling. I can see it being good if you’re a fan of the team, but if you’re just an average baseball fan, there might not be much here to excite you.